Chasing the "Purple Squirrel" and Succeeding: Jennifer Feddersen

Jennifer Feddersen likes a challenge. Each year, she fills hundreds of staff positions, and she does so in Detroit, Michigan, a city whose fame for economic and cultural decline is greater than its reputation for the renaissance that is actually taking place. Her skills and enthusiasm for recruiting high-quality physicians at a breakneck pace could be why she was named a finalist in the national Staff Physician Recruiter of the Year awards presented by physician staffing experts Jackson & Coker.

An early mentor once told Jennifer that she looks for practitioners who “have fire in their belly” – that passion to make a difference rather than just punch a time clock. Jennifer has never forgotten that, and it has become a hallmark of her recruiting career. At Henry Ford Health System (HFHS), where she is manager executive, physician, & APP recruitment, Jennifer recruits far more than the typical community care physician. The six-hospital system with more than 30 smaller locations (e.g., ophthalmology clinics, dialysis centers) includes teaching and research facilities. She is much more likely to recruit a transplant anesthesiologist and have little to offer to a general cardiologist.

Jennifer is no longer the protégé, but a mentor in her own right. She contributes to the physician recruiting profession as president of the Michigan Recruitment and Retention Network and is vice president of research on the board of the Associate of Staff Physician Recruiters (ASPR). Through those organizations, she’s able to encourage and share tips with less experienced recruiters across the U.S.

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But it’s the pursuit of what HR people call a “purple squirrel” that ignites Jennifer’s and her team’s tenacity and competitiveness. Finding a new physician in a specialty where there might be only six new entrants nationwide each year is the kind of challenge that enlivens rather than discourages her team. In 2015, as a team of four recruiters (now five), the HFHS team recruited 330 new providers, of which 214 were physicians and 115 were nurse practitioners, physician assistants, or nurse midwives. Add in a substantial handful of healthcare executives, including department chairs and vice chairs, and the challenge seems almost herculean.

And while many might think it would be hard to recruit outstanding professionals to Detroit, Jennifer has found that if she can get them to visit the city, negative preconceptions are washed away. Targeted renovation has been underway for years and a new Detroit has emerged. “The revitalization is so much fun,” she says, “and Henry Ford Health System is right at the center of it, supporting the city all the way.” The diverse community in Detroit includes more than 50 languages spoken and is evidenced by the variety of ethnic restaurants. With a new hockey arena, three major professional sports teams (and a fourth nearby), and blossoming businesses and entertainment options, Detroit has become a selling point for Henry Ford Health System.

Amid the frenetic pace of recruiting providers, for Jennifer it all comes down to that fire in the belly. Once she has determined that a candidate is qualified, she puts away the CV and gets to know the person behind the resume. What is their passion? Why are they doing what they do? Do they have outstanding patient skills that match their professional qualifications? Do the teaching candidates love to explain the whys along with the whats of medicine? Are the researchers passionate about their work?

“I’m so fortunate to work in this amazing, patient-first culture. Henry Ford Health System has given me the opportunity to hire people that are educators, researchers, and clinicians that truly have that passion. Some of the physicians that I hire that are curing cancer – I’m a part of that. It’s why I do what I do. They do miracles every day; I’m very fortunate to be a part of that.”


The Staff Physician Recruiter of the Year program is designed to recognize those in the profession who make outstanding contributions to healthcare through their work. Recruiters are nominated by hospital administrators, physicians, and fellow staff recruiters from across the U.S. Nominations are reviewed by an independent panel that selects 10 finalists and one overall winner based on the individuals’ dedication to the in-house physician recruitment field. The award is sponsored by Jackson and Coker, the oldest and one of the most prominent physician recruiting firms in the U.S., serving hospitals and facilities nationwide. To learn more about Jackson & Coker and the Staff Physician Recruiter of the Year awards, click here.